SINGAPORE: Mandatory bonuses for cleaners regardless of performance, as well as the expanded use of an automated waste collection system, were among the changes to the Environmental Public Health Act passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 2).
Moving the Bill for a second reading, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said that the new amendments would ensure that Singapore remains a "clean, green and livable city for generations to come".
Explaining that waste generation in Singapore grew by 40 per cent in the last decade, Dr Khor said: "If we do not adopt technology but continue to manage waste the way we do today, we will need a proportionate increase in manpower which we cannot meet without turning to foreign labour."
COMPULSORY BONUS FOR CLEANERS
The mandatory Progressive Wage Model (PWM) bonuses for cleaners will be one way in which Singapore can realise the vision of a skilled and productive workforce, said Dr Khor.
Building on the compulsory wage ladder - which was first mooted in 2012 to help cleaners grow their salaries - the new changes will pay cleaners a bonus regardless of their performance.
Under the amended Bill, the PWM bonus, which will take effect in January 2020, will be a licensing requirement for cleaning businesses. Those who do not comply will face financial penalties or risk losing their licence.
However, the eligibility, amount and frequency of the bonus will be stipulated by the Commissioner for Labour. Currently, the minimum quantum recommended by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) is two weeks of the basic monthly wage.
"These amendments signal our continual commitment to improve the wages of our cleaners, even as the push for productivity continues," said Dr Khor.
"But our efforts alone will not be enough; employers and service buyers must also act responsibly and reward staff fairly."
The decision to implement bonuses was widely welcomed by Members of Parliament, with MP and TCC chairman Zainal Sapari describing the move as a "historic and landmark change".
Workers' Party MP Chen Show Mao also welcomed the provision in the Bill.
"Cleaners, like many other low-wage workers, often live from paycheck to paycheck and find it difficult to save for the future," said Mr Chen. "Today’s Bill takes a step in the direction towards minimum wage protection for low-wage workers in the cleaning sector."
MP Louis Ng lauded the move as a "very positive step forward” to help cleaners feel appreciated but added not all cleaners will get to receive the bonus, such as those hired directly by food and beverage establishments rather than a cleaning company.
In response, Dr Khor said while the PWM bonus does not apply to cleaners who are directly employed, MEWR urges employers who are doing well to “share their gains and reward their workers fairly".
As part of the changes, about 40,000 resident cleaners may stand to receive up to 4 per cent more in wages each year, said Dr Khor in her opening speech.
With the scheduled annual wage increments under the PWM, cleaners could see their salaries rise by up to 7 per cent each year from now until 2020, when the PWM bonus is mandated.
Dr Khor said more details on the bonus will be given in due course.
A TRANSFORMATION IN WASTE COLLECTION
The amended Bill will also bring about a greater use of pneumatic waste conveyance systems (PWCS) in Singapore, shared Dr Khor.
Cleaners no longer need to manually collect waste from individual apartment blocks and bring it to a bin centre with the PWCS, a technology that uses air pressure to convey waste through sealed pipes from throw-points to a collection centre.
While it has been mandatory for new development applications for condominiums with 500 residences or more to implement PWCS since Apr 1, the changes to the Bill will now allow PWCS to be deployed at a district level, said Dr Khor.
“This will transform waste collection, and allow us to improve the standards of cleanliness and public health, even with a shrinking workforce,” she added.
The first District Pneumatic Waste Conveyance System (DPWCS) under the amendments will be implemented at the upcoming private residential estate of Kampong Bugis.
Changes to the Bill will allow the authorities to declare DPWCS areas, where all private developments within such a district will be required to connect and use the DPWCS.
“By implementing PWCS at the district level, we can reap more economies of scale," explained Dr Khor.
“NEA (National Environment Agency) estimates that a condominium with 1,000 dwelling units that would no longer need a bin centre would save on space equivalent to one five-room flat."
New sections added to the Bill will give NEA the powers to require owners and occupiers of premises to pay connection charges and/or tariffs where necessary.
COST OF INSTALLING, MAINTAINING THE SYSTEM
Citing a 2015 news report which said that the PWCS cost more than S$11 million for 38 blocks in Yuhua estate as part of the Housing and Development Board’s Greenprint project, MP Lee Bee Wah asked if the cost of implementing the system will be transferred to residents.
MP Sylvia Lim also raised similar concerns. “It is quite clear that owners of premises will have to incur significant costs to make their properties PWCS-ready,” Ms Lim said. "Can the government give any indication as to the expected cost of the mandatory PWCS to existing homes?”
Several MPs also asked about the hefty capital cost and maintenance fees, and whether residents would have to foot the bill.
Dr Khor clarified and illustrated with the example of upcoming development Kampong Bugis, a private residential precinct. The master developer will cover the capital costs, while the development's management will cover operational and maintenance expenses through a monthly tariff.
She added that when implemented on a district level, premises will get to enjoy cost savings due to economies of scale through shared bin centres, air and ventilation equipment and pipe networks.
Compared to Yuhua, the cost borne by premises in Kampong Bugis is expected to be lower because the construction is done from the start without retrofitting, she said.
In response to a question from MP Murali Pillai who had asked if the Government would consider subsidising existing private developments to implement PWCS within their estates, Ms Khor said that it has "no plans to do so”.
Workers’ Party's Ms Lim also asked if the DPWCS would be extended to landed estates in the future.
“Currently, we do not think there are sufficient economies of scale to implement DPWCS in landed estates for the system to be financially viable. We will focus our efforts on non-landed developments, such as Kampong Bugis,” Dr Khor said.